This isn’t what I was supposed to be writing today. But sometimes, you hear something and you can’t help but respond to it.
I was listening to the radio, and on it was a man. And that man said something to the effect of: people who have been through bad times understand themselves and their values better because people who haven’t don’t have to really think about them.
TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of depression, suicidal thoughts
Sometime in 2010, (I can’t tell you when exactly, because denial and repression used to be my Very Best Friends) I was hit with pretty severe depression- complete with flunking out of university and lots of ugly wanting to die but not having the energy to do anything about it feelings. Alongside this, there was unhealthy helping of douchetastic behaviour on my part because I was Not Handling Things.
Fortunately, I’ve battered the Bad Feelings down to some sort of manageable level with medication, therapy and an awesome Team Me, and developed some coping mechanism thanks to the aforementioned therapy. I’m not a fan of the “everything happens for a reason/ there is a grand plan” philosophy, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t change it if I could, because having what Captain Awkward calls a Jerkbrain is often painful ,exhausting and frustrating. Nevertheless, I DID have to examine myself and my values, and I think I’m slowly developing into a better person for them.
So here are the five most important things I’ve learnt in the past two years:
1. It’s okay to feel
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very very good at not examining things I don’t want to. Deny, repress and play computer games until your eyes cross. I’ve spent hours staring at the wall, but I’m fine. I haven’t completed a piece of coursework in two moths but I’m great. I can’t sleep but I’m fantastic. I don’t feel sad because I’ve got nothing to feel sad about. I don’t feel angry because I’m a Nice Person. I forgive people things.
A lot of my first round of therapy was learning to recognise these feelings, and then learning how to feel them. I am not fine. I am sad. I am angry.
Sometimes these feelings are rational; sometimes these feelings are totally irrational. But they are there, they exist and you have the right to feel them. To paraphrase Finding Nemo, Feelings are Friends, Not Food, or things you put in the back of the fridge and forget about.
For a far more articulate exploration of this, check out the post and comments here.
2. Talking is sometimes as important as listening
Since I was a kid, I’ve been a Good listener. That’s what I did, I listened to my friends problems and I gave them good advice and did my best to cheer them up. As I got older, I trained to mentor and counsel others and started university as a wide eyed and enthusiastic psychology student with ambitions to be the Best, Most Helpful Psychologist ever.
I knew how to listen, but I didn’t know how to talk. I could ramble on forever about Dr Who, how much SPSS sucked or youtube videos, but I didn’t know how to ask people for things when I needed them, to tell them how I was feeling or to tell them when they upset me. Even thing so simple as me finding a real life non celebrity attractive didn’t seem worth talking about. I pushed it all down, until it all exploded messily.
Learning to use my words has been hard. I had to fight past the conditioning of childhood bullying, to learn it was not always necessary to Not Draw Attention, to fight past my desire as a disabled person not to be A Burden, and my irrational fear of my loved ones Disappointmnt. I’m still a work in progress, I still don’t always speak up, sometimes my fears strike me silent. But I’m trying.
My relationships with my family and friends are much stronger and healthier now that they are more of a two way street, and my life is richer for their brilliant advice on the important -and not so important- things . I love you
3. You can’t know something until you KNOW something
I took my first psychology lesson when I was seventeen years old. We did a whole unit on depression and everything. I distinctly remember in a class debate being firmly on the side of No Drugs, because in a lot of tests they didn’t function better than placebos and they often masked depression symptoms without making them better.
And I still carried that stigma with me even when it became clear that I was now the one with the problem. Therapy I accepted without a blink. But I wasn’t going on drugs. I will forever be grateful to my mum and two fantastic friends that gently pushed the issue. Because those drugs are bloody helpful.
I knew depression was more than I read about in books, but now I KNOW it is. I always knew and believed in the saying- Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes- and now I KNOW it. Only your experience can help you make the right decision for you.
4. Sometimes people will be asshats, but you can’t always do something about it and it’s not your fault
One of my uncles is an asshat. A racist, misogynistic homophobic asshat who believes he’s telling it like it really is (exactly like The Daily Mail says it is mostly). And in the early days of yes-I-have-depression, I kicked up my habitual avoidance of him to Olympic champion levels.
Because now I wasn’t just an anti-racist Bisexual female, I was an anti-racist Bisexual depressed female, who had no desire to listen to all the ways my life would be better if I stopped moping around pulled up my socks and joined the army. (Only kidding- girls can’t join the army. Heh.) Mostly because part of me thought he was right and the rest of me felt guilty for not speaking up.
I still avoid him at Olympic levels, but these days I avoid him because of his attitude rather than mine. I refuse to let the asshole make me feel shit. I still feel bad for not always Using My Words. But recently I came across a post by at Spark in Darkness that says:
“Yes there are some fantastically brave, heroic people out there past and present who have rose above far worse than this; but it’s not failure not to be a damn superhero. There’s no shame in trying to be safe and you don’t make a safe space by spilling lots of blood somewhere until it mystically becomes safe and, even if it does feel shaming or like failure or cowardice, sometimes you have to run.”
I deserve better. You deserve better than toxic people that bring you down, and sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to walk away.
5. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s what you do about them that counts.
Reading back through this, it almost sounds as if I’ve got it all together. Which makes me want to laugh in a slightly hysterical manner. These things are things I still struggle with daily, and I still slip up and have really bad days.
But the difference is, instead of burying my head in the sand ad hoping it will all go away, I own my mistakes and bad days, apologise wholeheartedly when necessary, and try and do it better tomorrow.
That is a place I would never have got to without therapy, meds, family, fantastic friends that are like family (I hope you know who you are, I don’t want to name you without permission) and supportive online communities that articulate my messy thoughts far more beautifully and meaningfully than I ever could.
You will make mistakes, but you can do something about them and you don’t have to do it alone.